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March 23, 2012Research

Calvinism: New Research and a Discussion with Roger Olson & Michael Horton

The topic of Calvinism constantly drives discussions online. Some are helpful, many are not. Misrepresentation of positions and beliefs on both sides of the issue are common and often divisive.

So last week on my weekly episode of The Exchange, in an effort to further the discussion with facts and cordial discourse, I hosted a live video discussion with Michael Horton and Roger Olson, the respective authors of For Calvinism and Against Calvinism. The archived video is now online here:

In preparing for program last week about Calvinism, I returned to some research we did last year and I've already shared in several places. In November 2010, the Barna Group surveyed Protestant pastors and concluded that Calvinism is not growing either in mainline or non-mainline churches. We asked similar questions using a larger sample and found similar conclusions. However, we also asked many additional questions (shaped with help of some well-known Calvinists and well-known Arminians who don't like Calvinism). The presentation I have used to present the data is here-- I only shared a part of the data in this version of The Exchange.

The only other studies I know are Southern Baptist projects-- if you know of others, please let me know. For those who might not know, Calvinism is controversial in the SBC and a cause for growing debate.

One study, done by LifeWay Research (before I was leading it) showed that ten percent of SBC pastors called themselves 5-point Calvinists. Then, I also led a study more than five years ago (when I was working at the Center for Missional Research of the North American Mission Board). That study included denomination-specific data from recent (at that time) SBC seminary graduates. In that data, the sample of SBC seminary grads showed quite a contrast from SBC pastors (10%) and from this Protestant Pastor study. In the SBC graduate study, Calvinism was growing among graduates, at least in 2006-- and would have likely been higher if The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary had participated in the study, leading to a more representative percent of their graduates being included.

You can download the 2011 study I referenced in the webcast here, but note that there are few statistically significant differences (all listed), and they are generally not related to age. In other words, when looking at a large national sample of Protestant pastors, we cannot find a surge of young, restless, and reformed pastors.

Some highlights of the research:

• 29% are strongly neither - strongly disagree with both the Calvinist and Arminian labels

• 12% are strongly Arminian - strongly agree to being theologically Arminian and strongly disagree to being Calvinist

• 10% are strongly Calvinist - strongly agree to being theologically Calvinist and strongly disagree to being Arminian

• 4% are strongly confused - strongly agree to being both theologically Calvinist and Arminian

• Pastors under age 45 are more likely than other age groups to strongly disagree they are Arminian

Lots of questions remain. There is an assumption out there that Calvinism is growing (hence the books we discussed in the video), but we do not see it nationally through this study. Both people who like and those who dislike Calvinism see such growth, but we do not see it in the survey-- and, for that matter, we cannot tell if the 2006 SBC graduate trend continued.

So, in the end, I cannot settle the question of why it appears that Calvinism is growing but statistically it does not show up. But, I hope we can all agree that Calvinism can be discusses with grace and honesty, as I hope Michael Horton, Roger Olsen, and I did here.

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